It was quite educational for me to listen to two ‘new Norwegians’, Magdi Omar Ytreide Abelmaguid and Chirag Rashmikant, being interviewed on a TV program recently. Magdi and Chirag are the successful duo in the Karpe Diem band in Oslo. They are born and bred in the city of quite international backgrounds. Magdi is a Muslim with an Egyptian father and ethnic Norwegian mother; Chirag is a Hindu with an Indian-Ugandan father and a mother from Gujarat, India.

They have played music together since 2000 and belong to the young inhabitants of the multi-cultural and multi-religious Norwegian capital.

Often, they say, they have different contextual references to many other Norwegians. “We grew up in homes without IKEA sofa, which was changed every three years, and no book shelves either”, they joked. They did their high school diplomas in commercial studies, and had no further ambitions for academic degrees, although their parents came from academic backgrounds.

“Other Norwegian students, for example, at the more academic Nissen skole or Katedralskolen, had entirely different thoughts and aspirations in their heads”, they said.

The anchor noted how successful they have been together. Yet, they too are different, from the majority Norwegians, immigrants from other backgrounds, and even from each other; one having done all the standard things of an establishment man, marrying young, having two children, buying a semi-detached house on the outskirts of the city. Yes, the ‘whole package’; the other one, living a typical urban, single man’s life at St. Hanshaugen downtown Oslo. “I have not yet found out all until the babies are on the table”, he joked, as only a rap artist can.

Magdi and Chirag of Karpe Diem have received several prestigious awards for their albums, reaching top slots in music competitions at home and abroad.

In addition, the band travels up and down the country giving live concerts. Magdi and Chirag have also performed at several serious events, including memorial services in cathedrals after the tragic attacks on 22 July 2011, when Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people. Karpe Diem became a symbol of the importance of the diversity of the Norwegian popular culture, and the sense of unity all felt after the attacks.

The duo of Karpe Diem is in many ways a manifestation of the ‘new Norwegians’ and the new land. They are proud of their differences and backgrounds at the same time as they embrace their land. Hence, the name Karpe Diem is quite suitable, usually translated “seize the day”, deriving from a Latin-based phrase by the Roman poet Horace.

Why do I tell all this? Because it is so important that we recognise the contributions of people of immigrant and multicultural backgrounds in Europe, yes, in all countries in the world.

I am sure, my countrymen and women in Norway realise this, at least when they are reminded of it. They wouldn’t have experienced any of the international richness if the country had stayed almost all-white, with blond and blue-eyed Norwegians, as it was until about 1970 – when the first larger groups of immigrants from far away came. Many were from Gujrat, Pakistan, and later, Afghan refugees came, Iraqis, Somalis and more recently, Syrians, North Africans and others, and foreign workers from countries nearby, such as Poland and Sweden, who are not quite considered foreign.

Last weekend, I met an elderly Pakistani-Norwegian, Pervez Iqbal (originally from KPK), who was visiting ‘home’ after a long time. Since most of his relatives are gone, and less contact with the younger ones, the strings with Pakistan had become looser. I said in our conversation that Somalis don’t do so well in Norway; they don’t get into jobs but walk about in town and look for business, maybe chewing ‘naswar’, or another stimulating drugs. “Not true”, he quickly replied. “That was before, but now they have also found their way around in their new land.” I was very pleased to hear one immigrant defending another immigrant group rather than ‘stepping’ on them. The Somalis came later than the Pakistanis; many predicted that their integration would be more problematic than that of other immigrants.

I was glad to hear Pervez’ opinions and attitudes; it was a good reminder for me – and I hope we in Pakistan do the same: defend immigrants, refugees and other minorities.

A few weeks ago, I wrote in my column about a young Pakistani-Norwegian medical doctor Mohammad Usman Rana’s book, ‘Norwegian Islam. How to Love the Quran and Norway at the Same Time’; original Norwegian title: ‘Norsk islam. Hvordan elske Koranen og Norge samtidig’.

The public debate continues; some don’t like that Rana wants a traditional, quite conservative religion and at the same time, a secular and modern state. This is not the last book about the topic; it is just one of the first ones in the Norwegian language by a Norwegian Muslim. Rana has done a great service to Muslim and other immigrants from other religions. And he is also educating the majority Christians in the land, and also to those who are culturally Christian but don’t really ‘get time to’ practice religion.

Having followed the debate, I am glad that Rana has written an important book. And more, I am glad that Norway and Europe have received relatively sizeable groups of Muslims and people from other religions in the last few generations.

I am saddened that the indigenous people, many of whom about to lose their own practicing Christian traditions, don’t welcome the new believers. Instead of saying that Islam is a problem in Europe, we should look at it from the opposite angle: Islam enriches the countries where Christianity has been so alone and dominating, and only with small groups from other religions.

It was time that Europe became multi-religious and multi-cultural, wasn’t it? I am glad that it happens and it takes contributions like Rana’s book, and a lot of debate within and between religions, to help us on the way to appreciate that each religion is sacred to the believers – and of great value to other religions and socially and culturally upright people of any faith or none. The European states are generally quite tolerant, but people need to be more actively inclusive.

It takes artists, musicians, intellectuals, ordinary people and experts to discuss it all and open our eyes and thus strengthen our cultures. Unique people like Magdi and Chirag in Karpe Diem are important in the new and more global world we live in. They base their contributions on a combination of ‘lessons from home’ and from the mixture of cultures they have grown up with. In Pakistan, too, I believe that instead of limiting diversity, without quite admitting it when we see it, too, we should emphasise diversity and pluralism more.

It can only be good and will the land stronger and more future-looking.

From a pragmatic and utilitarian point of view, diversity is valuable for economic growth. Recently, I read about an Australian-born researcher in immigration and refugee studies, working at Rutgers University, USA, Professor Jennifer Hunt at Rutgers, explaining that newcomers, especially if they are a bit different than the majority where they go, are great assets to the host country economies and communities. It is a myth that they only cost money, although initially some do. Of course, they must also be invited and allowed to contribute, and then, “Almost everyone are winners in immigration”, said Jennifer Hunt in a deep-digging article series in the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter last month. Her research promises well, but we must open our eyes, mind and heart to the research and to the new insight it offers.

We must let many myths go.

Perhaps we should ask Karpe Diem for some provoking rap slogans to make us think, get shocked maybe, but not slumber and be indifferent? Or, we should ask theologians and non-theologians, like Rana and Iqbal, to formulate issues that are important in our time in a global world. Will we change very much? No, I don’t think so. But I believe we will change enough to make the best of the new times. We will learn the simple aspects of respecting all God’s people under the rainbow – as the first man stepping on the Moon said: ‘one small step for man, a giant leap for humanity’.